Participant observation is a vital part of ethnography and the data we gathered on McCulloch park ended up giving us essential information into the dynamics and opinions on the park.
“McCulloch is quieter than the other parks.”-Muncie Community Member
“There is a lot of open-space to breathe.”-Muncie Community Member
Upon completing participant observation for the park, I found that there is a general consensus feeling that people share, regarding the park. This feeling is that of community availability. The large green-space that McCulloch Park offers, along with the several activities available such as basketball, disc-golf, and playgrounds for kids to play serve as great outlets for community members to go and spend time outside in a public space close to home. Many of the people I had talked to chose to came to McCulloch because of either the close proximity from home, or the activities that the park structures had offered. This includes people from all ages and genders, whether it be older gentlemen wanting a quiet getaway, or mothers needing a place for their kids to expend some energy. The park also frequently serves as a place for family picnics and gatherings such as birthday parties. People from the ages of about 20-35 also tend to frequently use the disc-golf course provided by the park.
-By Phillip Oechsle
I interviewed a man in September who approached me, curious about why I had been walking around the park all morning. I told him about the class and asked if I could ask him a few questions about the park and he obliged. He told me that he worked at the nearby sanitation department so he frequented the park regularly. He said that he loved the quiet nature that the park offered. He said that he had seen many animals there like deer, geese, and other small animals. He really enjoyed the beautiful scenery and the different activities that were available such as the frisbee golf course. His least favorite thing was the suspicious activity that went on in the park. This threw me off because, at the time, I was early on in my learning about the park. He told me that there were men who would frequently drive around the park doing/selling drugs and looking for hookups from other men. He even pointed out a vehicle that was driven by one of these men while we were walking and talking. He said that these men did not bother him anymore because they knew that he did not appreciate their presence at all. At the time I did not take this man seriously and I was worried that these fears were rooted in homophobic beliefs. I would later find out that this was just the first time that I would learn about these men. I now wish that I had talked to the man more about these issues to gather more insight.
-By Kierstin Price
During a late night session of participant observation at McCulloch Park, I had become aware of one the scenes that exists at the park. I was there to collect audio and visual data, when I was approached by two older white men. At the top of the racing hill, by the red picnic awning, I was approached by these men and offered sexual favors. I quickly understood that the particular area of the park I was in must have been a meeting place for gay men. After denying the offers, I was followed by one of the men who insisted that I interview him for my research. I decided to interview him, curious of the beneficial information I could find on the dynamics of the park. In this short interview, I had learned that men indeed meet up in that area of the park for homosexual encounters, primarily during dark hours of the night. The man had disclosed that there were many cars that would periodically drive through the park, searching for people whom they thought were there for that particular reason. The man had also told me that these sexual encounters and drug-deals were the main reasons cars were seen in the park after dark. After the short interview with this man, I personally witnessed several cars pacing back and forth throughout the park.
I decided to complete a little more research into the specific topic of gay-sex encounters in public spaces such as parks. I had found a scholarly source that talked about the dynamics of this behavior, as well as highlighting some positives behind this reality. In Grant Anderson’s article, ‘Why can’t they meet in bars and clubs like normal people?’: the protective state and bio-regulating gay public sex spaces, He discusses some reasons why homosexual men use public spaces for sexual encounters. He writes, “Public sex entails an apparent misuse of public space, redefining it as a place of erotic pleasure and anonymous sexualization, an alternative narrative sitting uncomfortably with the heterosexist ideal of a safe, ‘family friendly’, public setting free of sexuality (reserved strictly for the private realm)”. Anderson poses the idea that many public spaces used for homosexual sex help provide a sense of ‘sexual anonyminity’, as well as elevating erotic pleasure for some. He also writes, “PSS (Public Sex Spaces) can ‘form new forms of homoerotic communality that can potentially contribute to a revaluation of meaningful human interaction and community formation. This community building embodies the mutual understanding associated with common codes of conduct established between men who use PSS. Such PSS can offer the opportunity for men who are ‘largely disconnected from…gay culture’ the opportunity anonymously to explore sexuality with other men”. These behaviors in the park do pose a potential safety risk for others, but also serve as a function of sexual interaction and sexual community formation for men who cannot find it elsewhere.
-By Phillip Oechsle
Looking at both the qualitative and the quantitative data, we can see that McCulloch Park is as diverse and complex as its park-goers and surroundings. It is a place with amenities that attract joggers, families, reunions, picnickers, disc-golfers, and individuals wanting to spend time outdoors on nice days. It has been a part of the community for over a century and continues to be an attractive spot for events. People who live or work nearby use the park on almost a daily basis and like having such a nice outdoor space within walking distance. Cohen et al. wrote in their article “Impact and Cost Effectiveness of Family Fitness Zones: A Natural Experiment in Urban Public Parks” about how public parks with space for fitness and wellness say an increase in usage from local residents. When public spaces host equipment and amenities that encourage physical activity, people use them more and more. Parks such as McCulloch with walking trails, a disc golf course, and the soap box derby track which is used by joggers and walkers, encourages and increases physical activity of the local community and park-goers. Public parks, while great for the physical wellness of the community, also is great for the natural ecosystem.
Larson et al. writes in “Public Parks and Well being in Urban Areas of the United States” that urban spaces “cultivate a variety of environmental and social stressors that can make residents more susceptible to health problems” (Larson 2016). Having large green spaces with trees, native plants, and water sources provide ecosystem services that also support human welfare. Parks can “support vegetation that contributes to reducing heat effects, regulating air and water pollution, and enhance access to fresh fruits and vegetables (Larson 2016). We can use this information to better understand McCulloch’s place in Muncie and its nearby community. McCulloch is one such park that supports native vegetation, tree coverage which helps with reducing the heat index, and provides a safe outdoor space for physical activity which supports cardiovascular health in residents.
McCulloch Park is a park that could be considered legible, using the definition in “Legibility of Neighborhood Parks and Its Impact on Social Interaction in a Planned Residential Area” by Moulay and Ujang. Legible landscapes are defined as spaces that have “easily recognized elements… focusing on built environment, simplicity, rhythm, and unity in the setting (Moulay and Ujang 2016). McCulloch has easily recognizable landmarks such as the playgrounds, pavilions, baseball fields, and signs near the entrances. It is also simple in that it relies heavily on the large green space as an amenity and does not have complex or flashy features. It has its own rhythm between the hiking trails, the roads that pass through, and the disc golf course that takes the participant around the entire park in a set path. McCulloch could also be described as having a concave curve around the park using the driving roads, which are more legible according to Moulay and Ujang, because it helps see the majority of the park from key spots.
We recognize as a class that research and studies often overlook diverse communities and neighborhoods in research pertaining to public and urban spaces, and we aimed to understand not only McCulloch Park, but the park as a lens for Muncie as a city. This includes social stressors like the COVID-19 pandemic, economic pressures, and local politics.